Trade Marks Explained and Simplified

A common use for trade marks is distinguishing one party from another. Protection against imitation comes from the trade mark rules of the United Kingdom. In fact, the business world uses trade mark symbols more often than individuals. They use the logo to provide a product or an organisation with an identity that competitors cannot 'legally' imitate or reproduce.

What Can and Cannot be Registered in UK

A trade mark must be ‘unique’ to include any element (or combination).

Trade Marks Can Include:

  • Colours, shapes, or sounds
  • Designs, images, logos, slogans, or symbols
  • Names, phrases, signatures, or words

Note: As a general rule, most common law countries refer to the term as a ‘trade mark’. Whereas, the USA and Canada will write it as ‘trademark’.

A Trade Mark Cannot Be:

  • A 3-dimensional shape associated with the trade mark (e.g. using the shape of an egg for eggs).
  • A description of the goods or services that it relates to (e.g. use of ‘cotton’ by a cotton textile company).
  • Misleading (e.g. using the word ‘organic’ for goods that are not organic).
  • Non-distinctive or too common (e.g. using a simple statement such as ‘we lead the way’).
  • Offensive (e.g. contain pornographic images or swear words).
  • Too much like (resembling) state symbols such as flags or hallmarks (based on World Intellectual Property Organization guidelines).

How to Check if a Trade Mark is Registered

You would need to search the trade marks database before sending an application. The purpose is to check that no one has already registered an identical or a similar trade mark for either the same or similar types of goods or services.

The examination may show that someone already holds it as an existing trade mark. If so, you would need their permission to register yours.

Several options exist if there is an objection to a trade mark examination. In this case, you would need to get a ‘letter of consent’ from the owner to send along with your application.

Note: You can also use the CITMA directory to help you find a Chartered Trade Mark Attorney for searches and registrations.


How to Register a Trade Mark

The guide explains how to register a trade mark and what fees you would need to pay. Extra details in the section provide further information on:

  • How to complete the application process online
  • What happens after sending an application
  • Stopping someone using a similar trade mark to yours

Note: You can use the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA) website to search for legal representation.

Updating the Trade Marks Register

Keeping all registrations accurate and current are some of the responsibilities for owners of UK registered trade marks. So, you may need to update or surrender a trade mark to keep it up to date with the IPO.

A range of other services available means you can also:

Note: Signing up for alerts means you can track a trade mark to check the status of an application (UK and international registration).

Trade Mark Rules in the United Kingdom